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How to Be a Great Mom to a Toddler

Feigning interest

Toddlers obsess. They find something that fascinates them and then eat, drink, and sleep the topic. Why? It's a big and scary world, and in lieu of mastering it, they seek to master a small slice of it. That can be a single favorite movie or an entire genre (princesses, power tools).

Faerol Wiedman, a mom of three in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, had to fulfill her son's request to visit a car wash on his third birthday. "David's obsessed with car washes," she says. "We go through all the names, like BP, Mobil, Shell, and what each one has, like dryers, soap, water, and wax. Then we watch the cars being washed. He goes on and on about them. Even my five-year-old, John, says, 'Can we please stop talking about the car wash now?' I wish I could say the same, but I have to pretend to be interested!" Just as they'll ask a million questions, toddlers will also want to share their passion with you. So sit back and let your kid teach you a thing or two. But when you just can't pay attention through another monologue about swishy brushes, there's no shame in setting your brain on cruise control and repeating "Wow!" every now and then.

Herding

It once took more than an hour to walk six blocks home from daycare when my daughter was 2 1/2. Why? Ants! Pebbles! Cracks! Maddening, yes, but not so much when you realize that a short attention span is perfectly normal and healthy for a young toddler. Everything is new and exciting, so naturally it must be explored, examined, petted, and, of course, tasted.

As much as you try to put yourself in your kid's shoes and experience sights and sounds as if it were your first time, you can't be in the now all the time  -- especially when you're busy and it feels like you always have somewhere to be. To keep your wandering toddler on course, Tovah Klein suggests scheduling in a little extra time to get from place to place. "You can't be ready in five minutes with a toddler," she says. "And they don't understand the concept of time. Try giving them reasonable and concrete warnings, like saying 'Two more blocks and then we're putting on your shoes so we can go to the store.'" And, like any good herder, if you're really in a rush, physically block any new distractions. (You're bigger: She won't see the puppy if you're standing in the way. You can pet the one you see tomorrow.)

Fashion consulting

Does your toddler insist on wearing her favorite pair of shorts over her pants  -- with the cape from her princess costume? Don't sweat the fashion faux pas. Clothing falls firmly into the "choose your battles" department.

Think of her as "The Diva." You may not dress The Diva; you may only suggest seasonally appropriate clothing. Understand that Divas must make their own fashion decisions because it reinforces their desire to be independent. Your role: Advise, carefully. Give your toddler a choice of what to wear, but limit it to two options so she doesn't get overwhelmed. And watch for cues for how much assistance she wants when she's getting dressed. "Some toddlers will be totally insulted if you help them," says Klein. So back off  -- or pretend to. You think she's just putting on clothes; she thinks she's mastering high-tech science while expressing her fabulousness. Why are you messing with the zipper on her jacket when you should be amazed at her color coordination? The Diva can accessorize like no other!

Christy Whitney, a mom of two in Long Beach, California, solved her Diva problem by combining 3-year-old Kate's sense of fashion with her need for repetition. "I found a dress she loved to wear and bought five of them in different colors," she says. "Kate got to pick the color every day."

Friendship

This is the best part: Now's the time in your child's life when he wants to hang out with you the most. Since he's adventurous but can't go too far by himself, you're his number one pal. He counts on you to show him how to have a good time  -- and being with you makes everything more fun for him. Picture one of those buddy-movie montages: You watch the penguins at the zoo, share sips from an apple-juice box, and discuss the merits of blue frosting over green. Enjoy the hanging-out aspect of having a toddler. This, in the long run, is what matters most to him. The little moments of downtime are the building blocks of a close relationship. And trust me  -- if you join him in hopping on the floor like a frog and making "ribbit" noises, he'll think you're great at this mom stuff.

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